by Haya Luftig
On August 11 and 12, 2017, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a large rally they called “Unite the Right.” The event, which was ostensibly organized to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park, featured a torch-lit march, racist and anti-Semitic signs and chants (including “Jews will not replace us”), and resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed by a car driven into the crowd of counter protestors.” “Unite the Right” shocked many Americans, who had no idea that white supremacists were so numerous or so explicit in their expressions of hate.
“Unite the Right” also introduced many Americans to the alt-right (short for “alternative right”), a segment of the white supremacist movement consisting of a loose network of racists and anti-Semites who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of extreme and explicit bigotry. Many hope to inject these bigoted views into the mainstream conservative movement in the United States.
The ideology of the alt-right is based on white supremacist beliefs about the need to protect white people from what they perceive as a “rising tide of color,” along with elements of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim animus, xenophobia, nationalism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ attitudes. Since mid-2016, the alt-right has gone from relative obscurity to one of the United States’ most visible extremist movements. In the last year, alt-right adherents have shifted their efforts from online engagement to real-world activity, trying to meet, network, and plan actions in cities and on campuses around the country.
Between September 1, 2016, and November 15, 2017, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) counted 302 incidents of white supremacist fliers, posters, banners or stickers on American college campuses. The incidents took place on 197 college campuses in 42 states. Of the 302 incidents, 120 occurred since Sept 1, 2017, versus 26 incidents in the same period in 2016.
Along with communities of color, many Jewish communities are main targets of white nationalist rhetoric and activity. Some of the most serious cases receive ample publicity, including James von Brunn’s 2009 shooting attack on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the 2001 arson attacks on three Sacramento synagogues by two white supremacist brothers. However, many anti-Semitic incidents and attacks are not covered as prominently by the media. According to ADL, in each of the past three years, synagogues and Jewish institutions across the country have been vandalized approximately fifty times, in many cases with graffiti of white supremacist iconography such as swastikas.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs:
- Rejects white supremacy and all other forms of bigotry, in consonance with the traditional Jewish belief that people of all ethnicities and creeds are created be-tzelem Elohim, in the Image of God;
- Affirms the importance of exposing and rejecting the hateful message of white supremacists, including the alt-right, whenever they appear in our communities;
- Affirms its obligation to protect and support all targets of white supremacist harassment and attacks; and
- Recognizes that all persons must be afforded the rights guaranteed to all residents of the United States under the law, while also affirming our obligation to oppose white supremacists’ hateful messages and deny them platforms to the extent consistent with the law.
The Jewish community relations field should:
- Speak out against the rhetoric and actions of white supremacists and other bigots;
- Educate the public about the Jewish values of equality and tolerance, and why white supremacy has no place in our community;
- Encourage reporting hate incidents to law enforcement agencies, the Anti-Defamation League, and other relevant non-governmental organizations;
- Promote security awareness, ensure that Jewish institutions have security plans in place, and encourage appropriate training for staff, constituents and allied communities about security precautions to take in advance of any scheduled rallies or extremist events;
- Seek out and partner with other individuals and organizations opposing white supremacy; and
Call upon prosecutors to recognize white supremacist violence as acts of domestic